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sHeroes: How Antonia Hock of the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center is changing the culture of luxury and empowering everyone from the janitor to management

Educating young women is one of the best investments that any of us can make. If you couple education with a micro-loan infrastructure for women, I believe that we can change the future of the planet. If I had the opportunity, I would build a network of education opportunities in the most rural, poverty stricken […]

Educating young women is one of the best investments that any of us can make. If you couple education with a micro-loan infrastructure for women, I believe that we can change the future of the planet. If I had the opportunity, I would build a network of education opportunities in the most rural, poverty stricken communities in the world and marry it to a micro-loan model that allows women not only to gain the literacy and skills that they need to succeed, but the capital to extend that knowledge to action. That’s where sustainable action can impact communities long term. If you extend that work to include a social platform that encourages men to see these women as more desirable mates, you can really drive change! I would not be in my current role without the support, encouragement, and adoration of my husband — that makes a big difference for any enterprising female.


As a part of my series about strong female leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Antonia Hock. As the Global Head of The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, Antonia has extensive experience leading high impact business units and driving transformation in customer experience, high performing culture, and employee engagement. The hallmarks of her personal brand also include inspirational leadership, innovative strategy development, disciplined P&L management, and exceptional results. Antonia was named to 2019 Luxury Daily’s top 25 women to watch list, which annually honors select women executives who show the potential to make a difference in the luxury business in the year ahead. Her passion for highly differentiated customer experiences grounded in employee excellence has created exceptional brand loyalty across segments and industries.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I came to terms early in my career that I was by nature driven towards chaos, turn-arounds, new ideas, start-ups — anything that was a “build” vs. a stable, run-rate business that needed only incremental improvement to thrive. I also love working with big brands that have resources and an appetite for being market-makers through innovation and calculated risk. When I was presented with the opportunity to work for a heritage brand like The-Ritz-Carlton — but with the new twist of taking that legendary service to market as a methodology that can be implemented in the Fortune 500 to drive business performance, I knew I had to jump. From the first conversation with leadership, I was hooked.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

This is not a funny mistake per se, but it is poignant and indelible one: I was a young high-performing, high-potential manager, and I was invited to a very important meeting with 20 senior executives who were 95% men. The meeting room was small, with a boardroom table that fit only 10 seats, and 15 seats around the outside perimeter of the table. I arrived early to the meeting, and out of respect for the seniority of others in the meeting, I took a seat on the perimeter. After the meeting was over, I was called into my skip level boss’ office where I was told that I might not make it as a leader in the business because I could not claim my rightful place at the table. My seat choice was signaling to all of the other executives that I was deferential and not bold, aggressive or confident. I thought I was being thoughtful, but that was a wake-up call for how my actions would always signal my self-concept and my ambition. I think that this story underscores gender concepts as well as general behavior perception — both important lessons for a new leader. I am forever grateful to those male leaders in this situation who took the time to teach me that lesson early in my career because it jolted me from the patriarchal way I was raised, and I never made that mistake again.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

At the Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center, we are literally changing the world through implementing thoughtful caring service and by creating employee cultures that honor the individual and empower everyone to do their best work. I believe that there is no organization in the world that does not want to be known for excellence around how they treat their customers. I also believe that the very best businesses on the global know that happy thriving employees are their biggest asset. If you can create a corporate culture where we all thrive — that impacts not only the employee, but their families, their community, the customers that they touch and their families as well — the multiplier effect of this work is extraordinary. So the consulting work that we do, to share the extraordinary culture and practices of The Ritz-Carlton, is changing lives and communities. I think about the janitor in a hospital we serve. He hears an alert on a machine while cleaning a room, and runs to the nurses station. They respect his urgency, even though he is not a nurse, and run to take care of the patient — ultimately saving her life. Everyone in that story is empowered, respectful, caring, and focused on doing their best work. Prior to our work with that hospital, the nurses would not speak to a janitor, and the janitors were just “doing their job” — nothing more.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As a Marriott International brand, The Ritz-Carlton has the opportunity to work on some incredible projects that extend to human issues that impact all of us. Human trafficking is a big global issue, and our team at The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Center had an opportunity to work on the content for the new global training on human trafficking that was deployed to all of our associates and properties world-wide. I am so proud that our team stepped up to do this work because it impacts so many people across the globe.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Be authentic. You cannot lead a big or small team if they cannot relate to you on an authentic personal and professional level. Leadership is about teaching, relating, sharing your hard-earned wisdom, and helping others be their best. In my experience, you cannot achieve those things without being willing to share who you are in a 360 context. It’s also easier to course correct a business when you have people on your team who trust your judgement because they know you. Always be true to your word, and always take the opportunity to show that you care about your team as real people and not just employees.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I had an exceptional female leader early in my career who showed me that her road to success did not require her to change her personal narrative. She had a complicated family life and a complicated upbringing, and instead of hiding that from all of us, she invited us all into her world. We all came together for a team meeting where we all stayed the weekend at her home sleeping on the floors and sharing the bathroom, and we came out of that weekend much more connected to each other. She gave me the confidence that I could be my full self and not compromise my identity to succeed. She also gave me some of my most meaningful performance reviews where she invested in the coaching and insights to help me raise my game. She modeled how a selfless leader behaves, and it changed my trajectory.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1.) Work for someone who is nothing like you. Embrace the opportunity to learn from someone who doesn’t share your skill set or your communication style. That’s a powerful opportunity to grow.

2.) Never come to a meeting empty handed with a senior leader. The majority of people will “turn up and throw up”. Show that senior leader that you value their time, you have a POV, and you took the time to make the most of your mutual time investment

3.) Build peer-to-peer alliances. Your peers at any level can be a powerful force to accomplish great things. Even if your leader doesn’t invest in team meetings or peer connection opportunities, spend the time to get your peer group together and share ideas. Too few teams do this, and there is power in a group approach.

4.) Don’t stay too long. Know when it’s time to move on. I could have moved up faster in my career if I had been willing to acknowledge earlier when I was stale in a role. My inexperience and fear of not finding something better kept me rooted in place. It was only when I accepted my tolerance for risk and my commitment to living my best life that I was willing to leave when it was clear a business had ceased to invest in me. In short, do not lead a fear- based life.

5.) Diplomacy matters. How you win people over to your ideas, and how you conduct yourself in a political arena matters. Study some of the greats of diplomacy and incorporate those into your work-style. At the end of the day, we are all in a people-based business, and the more you can connect, influence, and share in ways that relate well to others, the better off you will be.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Educating young women is one of the best investments that any of us can make. If you couple education with a micro-loan infrastructure for women, I believe that we can change the future of the planet. If I had the opportunity, I would build a network of education opportunities in the most rural, poverty stricken communities in the world and marry it to a micro-loan model that allows women not only to gain the literacy and skills that they need to succeed, but the capital to extend that knowledge to action. That’s where sustainable action can impact communities long term. If you extend that work to include a social platform that encourages men to see these women as more desirable mates, you can really drive change! I would not be in my current role without the support, encouragement, and adoration of my husband — that makes a big difference for any enterprising female.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my personal guiding principles is to never lead a fear-based life. When you don’t take the risk because you are afraid of the outcome or afraid to fail, you limit your own potential. I always come back to this quote from Theodore Roosevelt (from his speech, Citizenship in Republic) which embodies this principle:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

It would have to be Oprah! She has been a force for a long time, and I think that’s exciting for a woman to have such a long-term sustainable impact on the world. She has shared so much, and love that she keeps striving for new impact. I’d love to extend her work with girls schools in Africa to a larger movement that impacts the US and beyond — focusing on the connection between education and entrepreneurship for women.

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